History, Holidays & Observances on January 1, the 8th Day of Christmas

New Year’s Day, 8th Day of Christmas, Solemnity of Mary, Mutiny of the Penn. Line, Emancipation Proclamation, Ban On The International Slave Trade, and More. . . .

Holidays and Observances on January 1

Welcome to the 1st day of the Year 2020, the 8th Day of Christmas, and soon, the fourth year of the Presidency of Donald Trump.

In modern times, on the 8th day of Christmas, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Mary. This feast was celebrated in Rome on January 1 beginning in the 5th century, but in the 13th century it was replaced by The Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. In 1974, Pope Paul VI removed the Feast of the Circumcision from the liturgical calendar and reestablished the Feast of Mary on 1 January. Also celebrated on this day, for over a millennium, was the Feast of Fools.

The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Feast Day)

This Feast commemorates the divine motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

The Solemnity of Mary Mother of God falls exactly one week after Christmas, the end of the octave of Christmas. It is fitting to honor Mary as Mother of Jesus, following the birth of Christ. When Catholics celebrate the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God we are not only honoring Mary, who was chosen among all women throughout history to bear God incarnate, but we are also honoring our Lord, who is fully God and fully human. Calling Mary “mother of God” is the highest honor we can give Mary. Just as Christmas honors Jesus as the “Prince of Peace,” the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God honors Mary as the “Queen of Peace”

The Feast of the Circumcision of Christ (Historical: 13th – 20th c.)

Jesus was circumcised in obedience to Jewish law (Genesis 17:10-12) on the eighth day following his birth (Luke 2:21). “The circumcision of Jesus has traditionally been seen, as explained in the popular 13th century work the Golden Legend, as the first time the blood of Christ was shed, and thus the beginning of the process of the redemption of man, and a demonstration that Christ was fully human, and of his obedience to Biblical law.”

The Middle Ages was fanatic about the value of religious relics, that is, objects or even body parts associated with people and events in the Bible. The most valuable thing, of course, would be something associated with Christ. So it was that, when someone noted that Christ’s foreskin might still be around, the search was on. Eventually, a dozen alleged foreskins were being bruted about as the real thing. Eventually, though, the Abbey of Charroux, in Poitiers, got a Papal Bull in the early 16th century saying it had the real foreskin.

In the 17th century, though, the relic vanished. It was recovered in 1856, long after the abbey had been abandoned and fallen into disrepair, hidden inside a wall. No one knows if it had been stolen or just hidden to protect it during wars, religious or otherwise.

This Feast eventually fell into disfavor. Indeed, Pope Leo XIII, during his papacy at the end of the 19th century, threatened excommunication to anyone who spoke of Jesus’s foreskin, considering it an “irreverent curiosity.” Pope Paul VI finally banished the Feast from the liturgical calendar in 1974. Apparently the only place that the feast is still celebrated openly is in the small Italian town of Calcata where the local Church, harking back to the medieval foreskin wars, claims to have possessed the remnant of Christ’s circumcision for several centuries.

The Feast of Fools (Historical: 5th – 17th c.)

The Feast of Fools, celebrated from the 5th to the 17th century throughout Europe, was a “celebration marked by much license and buffoonery.” It in many ways resembles the pagan Roman celebration of Saturnalia:

In the medieval version the young people, who played the chief parts, chose from among their own number a mock pope, archbishop, bishop, or abbot to reign as Lord of Misrule. Participants would then “consecrate” him with many ridiculous ceremonies in the chief church of the place, giving names such as Archbishop of Dolts, Abbot of Unreason, Boy Bishop, or Pope of Fools. The protagonist could be a boy bishop or subdeacon, while at the Abbey of St Gall in the tenth century, a student each December 13 enacted the part of the abbot. In any case the parody tipped dangerously towards the profane. The ceremonies often mocked the performance of the highest offices of the church, while other persons, dressed in different kinds of masks and disguises, engaged in songs and dances and practised all manner of revelry within the church building.

The Feast of Fools was never a sanctioned feast — and indeed, the Church often condemned it — but it was a popular feast. In 1431, the Council of Basel finally forbade the Feast of Fools under the very severest penalties, but the festivals didn’t die out until 1644, when the last Feast of Fools was celebrated in Paris.

The Feast of Fools figures in at least one major literary work. In “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Victor Hugo has Quasimodo elected as King of Fools to lead the local celebration.

And in honor of the Feast of Fools, Shrek’s 12 Days of Christmas

Major Events on January 1

1781 – The Mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line During the American Revolutionary War

As 1781 began, the Continental Army came near to dissolving. Given the conditions under which they had fought the war, it’s surprising that it took so long.

When the Revolutionary war began in 1775, America had no means of feeding and provisioning large numbers of soldiers in the field and no means of providing them a ready supply of gunpowder and shot. Congress did not have the bureaucracy in place to create a supply system. Indeed, Congress had not yet even agreed to band together as a union for mutual defense.

That the Continental Congress was able at short notice to create something resembling a supply system out of scratch while in a war against the world’s only superpower was laudable. That the system they created was incredibly poor and barely functional is hardly surprising. That Congress did little to fix the system, despite almost daily pleas from General Washington was troubling. That the soldiers remained through it all, often unfed and with clothes falling off of their backs, shoes at a premium, and often unpaid, in some of the most trying conditions imaginable, should fill all Americans who look back upon their actions with awe.

But by the winter of 1780, many of the Continental soldiers had had enough. A number of the Pennsylvania soldiers had enlisted for a term of “three years or until the end of the war.” Many of these soldiers reasonably – and rightly – believed that meant that their enlistments were up on January 1. The Continental officers disagreed. Moreover, that was hardly the Pennsylvania soldiers’ only complaint. Most hadn’t been paid for months. While in winter quarters, the enlisted men of the line hatched a plan to march out of camp on this day in 1781 and march on Congress in Philadelphia to demand that they be paid. Their commanding officer, General Wayne, was unable to stop them.

The troops marched to Princeton and stopped there to set up a temporary base. The Pennsylvania government and the British Army under General Clinton both heard of the mutiny and dispatched emissaries to treat with the mutinous troops.

The mutineers turned down the British offer to make good their back pay if they would simply give up the rebel cause and disperse. When the President of the Executive Council of Pennsylvania, Joseph Reed, came to the camp:

. . . the soldiers distilled their grievances to one issue: that men enlisted in 1776 and 1777 for $20 bounties be discharged and then given the opportunity to reenlist for a new bounty if they wished. Reed heard testimony to the effect that officers had coerced soldiers to stay in the army or reenlist with unfavorable terms, even employing corporal punishment to that end. He found the testimony compelling and agreed to their terms, even allowing that the many soldiers whose enlistment papers were unavailable could simply swear an oath that they were “twenty dollar men” and be discharged.

Reed made arrangements in Trenton, where the Pennsylvanians marched to begin the discharge process on January 12. Approximately 1,250 infantrymen and 67 artillerymen were discharged. When the proceedings ended on January 29, only 1,150 out of 2,400 men remained in the Pennsylvania Line. However, many discharged men later reenlisted and the remaining regiments accepted their old officers.

General Washington was livid, for he was afraid that such treatment of the Pennsylvania Line would lead to further mutiny. Within days, men of the New Jersey line staged a mutiny. Washington dealt with the matter personally.

[Washington] immediately dispatched Major General Robert Howe from West Point to Pompton, where Howe “surrounded the Mutineers by surprize in their Quarters, reduced them to unconditional submission & executed two of their Instigators on the spot.

That ended the large scale mutinies among the rank and file soldiers before the war came functionally to an end (in all but South Carolina) after the Battle of Yorktown in October 1781. But Washington still had one more mutiny to put down, and it was the most dangerous one. It was a plan to stage a coup by the junior and field grade officers of the Continental Army, the Newburgh Conspiracy.

1808 – The United States bans the importation of slaves.

On Dec. 2, 1806, in his annual message to Congress, President Thomas Jefferson denounced the “violations of human rights” attending the international slave trade and called for its criminalization on the first day that was possible. Congress passed and Jefferson signed a bill to that effect in 1807. Per the U.S. Constitution, January 1, 1808 was the first day on which any law could go into effect banning the importation of slaves. Article I, § 9 of the Constitution provides.

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

The following is an essay on this provision from the Heritage Foundation:

Although the first debate over slavery at the Constitutional Convention concerned representation [the three-fifths compromise], the second debate arose when Southern delegates objected that an unrestricted congressional power to regulate commerce could be used against Southern commercial interests to restrict or outlaw the slave trade. That the resulting provision was an important compromise is underscored by the fact that the clause stands as the first independent restraint on congressional powers, . . .

Taking Southern concerns into consideration, the draft proposed by the Committee of Detail (chaired by John Rutledge of South Carolina) dealt with trade issues as well as those relating to slavery. The draft permanently forbade Congress to tax exports, to outlaw or tax the slave trade, or to pass navigation laws without two-thirds majorities in both houses of Congress. Several delegates strongly objected to the proposal, including Governor Morris, who delivered one of the Convention’s most spirited denunciations of slavery, calling it a “nefarious institution” and “the curse of heaven.”

When the issue came up for a vote, the Southern delegates themselves were sharply divided. George Mason of Virginia condemned the “infernal traffic,” and Luther Martin of Maryland saw the restriction of Congress’s power over the slave trade as “inconsistent with the principles of the Revolution and dishonorable to the American character.” But delegates from Georgia and South Carolina announced that they would not support the Constitution without the restriction, with Charles Pinckney arguing that failing to include the clause would trigger “an exclusion of South Carolina from the Union.”

Unresolved, the issue was referred to the Committee of Eleven (chaired by William Livingston of New Jersey), which took the opposite position and recognized a congressional power over the slave trade, but recommended that it be restricted for twelve years, and allowed a tax on slave importation. Although that was a significant change from the Committee of Detail’s original proposal, Southern delegates accepted the new arrangement with the extension of the time period to twenty years, from 1800 to 1808.

Agitation against the slave trade was the leading cause espoused by the antislavery movement at the time of the Constitutional Convention, so it is not surprising that this clause was the most immediately controversial of the so-called slave clauses of the proposed Constitution (see Three-Fifths Compromise; Fugitive Slave Clause; and No Prohibition On Slave Trade Before 1808).

Although some denounced the Slave Trade Clause as a major concession to slavery interests, most begrudged it to be a necessary and prudent compromise. James Madison, for example, argued at the Convention that the twenty-year exemption was “dishonorable,” but in The Federalist No. 42, he declared that it was “a great point gained in favor of humanity, that a period of twenty years may terminate for ever within these States” what he called an “unnatural traffic” that was “the barbarism of modern policy.” . . .

It is significant that the words slave and slavery are not used in the Constitution of 1787, and that the Framers used the word person rather than property. This would assure, as Madison explained in The Federalist No. 54, that a slave would be regarded “as a moral person, not as a mere article of property.” It was in the context of the slave trade debate at the Constitutional Convention that Madison argued that it was “wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.”

Although Southern delegates hoped opposition would weaken with time, the practical effect of the clause was to create a growing expectation of federal legislation against the practice. Congress passed, and President Thomas Jefferson signed into law, a federal prohibition of the slave trade, effective January 1, 1808, the first day that Article I, § 9, Cl. 1, allowed such a law to go into effect.

Notable Events on January 1

The Julian calendar

45 BC – The Julian calendar takes effect as the civil calendar of the Roman Empire, establishing January 1 as the new date of the new year.

404 – Saint Telemachus tries to stop a gladiatorial fight in a Roman amphitheater, only to have the crowd stone him to death. This act impresses the Christian Emperor Honorius, who issues a historic ban on gladiatorial fights.

1776 – During the Revolutionary War, a combined Royal Navy and Continental Army action results in Norfolk, Virginia being burned. The Brits wanted to deny Norfolk to the Continentals. The Continentals wanted to drive out the Brits and sack the Tory homes. It was a rare win-win for competing sides in a war.

1752 — The Calendar Act: Britain and its colonies (less Scotland), begin dating the New Year from January 1. Before that, since the 11th century, Our Lady’s Day, occurring on March 25, was the day on which a new year was counted. In Scotland, the change to January 1 as the date of the new year began in 1600.

1773 – The hymn that became known as “Amazing Grace“, then titled “1 Chronicles 17:16–17” is first used to accompany a sermon led by John Newton in the town of Olney, Buckinghamshire, England. It is one of the few songs that actually sounds good on the infernal bagpipes.

1804 – A slave revolt defeats French rule in Haiti. Haiti becomes the first black republic and second independent country in North America after the United States.

1847 – The Sisters of Mercy, an Irish Catholic religious order, founds the world’s first “Mercy” Hospital in Pittsburgh, United States. The name will go on to grace over 30 major hospitals throughout the world. These hospitals have become targets of the progressive establishment for refusing to perform abortions or sterilizations.

1863 – The Emancipation Proclamation takes effect, ending lawful slavery in Confederate territory. Lincoln pursued the 13th Amendment, prohibiting slavery throughout the United States, because he thought the courts might rule his Emancipation Proclamation unconstitutional after the civil war concluded.

1934 – A “Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring” comes into effect in Nazi Germany. Eugenics was all the rage among the progressives and socialists of the world back then, with the United States in the movement’s lead during the 1920s.

1948 – Clement Attlee became Britain’s first socialist Prime Minister after WWII. Margaret Thatcher would eventually reverse his disastrous Marxist economic policies that had kept the British economy stagnant for decades. On this day in 1948, Attlee nationalized British railway network to form British Railways. In 1997, the Tories reversed that act:

The privatisation . . . was opposed by the Labour Party and the rail unions. . . . [F]ormer Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen general secretary Lew Adams moved to work for Virgin Trains, and said on a 2004 radio phone-in programme: “All the time it was in the public sector, all we got were cuts, cuts, cuts. And today there are more members in the trade union, more train drivers, and more trains running. The reality is that it worked, we’ve protected jobs, and we got more jobs.”

1959 – The Cuban Revolution succeeded on this day when Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista. Communism takes hold in Cuba, turning the nation into a worker’s paradise and making Fidel and his family into near billionaires. Redistribution: it’s only for the rubes without the guns.

1994 – The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) comes into effect. And now it is about to go out of effect, replaced by the USMCA.

1995 – The World Trade Organization comes into being. President Trump has accused the WTO of acting unfairly against the U.S. and is currently applying pressure, resulting in much international wailing and gnashing of teeth.

1999 – Euro currency is introduced in 11 member nations of the European Union (with the exception of the United Kingdom, Denmark, Greece and Sweden; Greece later adopts the euro). No one had greater foresight about the problems of giving up control over one’s national currency than Margaret Thatcher.

Born on January 1

1449 – Lorenzo de’ Medici, the de facto ruler of the Florentine Republic and the most powerful and enthusiastic patron of Renaissance culture in Italy during the Golden Age of Florence. As a patron, he is best known for his sponsorship of artists such as Botticelli and Michelangelo. He held the balance of power within the Italic League, an alliance of states that stabilized political conditions on the Italian peninsula for decades. It collapsed after his death.

1735 – Paul Revere, an important member of the Boston patriot faction and a propagandist who used his skill as a silversmith and engraver to draft one of the iconic images of the Revolution, a picture reflecting British soldiers gunning down colonists during the Boston massacre.

Revere is best known today for the role he played in warning that the British soldiers had left Boston en route to Concord, an act memorialized (and somewhat fictionalized) in the Longfellow poem, Paul Revere’s Ride.

1745 – “Mad” Anthony Wayne, one of the most successful generals of the American Revolution. After the war, Washington appointed him to lead U.S. forces during the Northwest Indian War.

1752 – Betsy Ross, American seamstress, credited with designing the Flag of the United States. That may well not have been her only, or even her most important contribution, to our nascent nation. One of the reasons Washington succeeded at the Battle of Trenton was because the Hessians had no nearby reinforcements to call upon. That may well have been because the overall Hessian commander, Carl von Donop, was miles away from Trenton on Dec. 26, seeing to a “beautiful young widow” in Mount Holly, New Jersey. Many believe that widow was Betsy Ross.

1895 – J. Edgar Hoover, 1st Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who gained fame for turning the FBI into a highly professional organization. Only after his death did we find out that Hoover used the FBI to harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders, and to collect evidence using illegal methods. Oh, and to wear lady’s clothes. And he still looks clean when compared to his successor, James Comey.

Died on January 1

2015 – Mario Cuomo, the Democratic Governor of New York from 1983 to 1994. He was an exceptional speaker and is remembered for giving a stirring keynote speech at the 1984 DNC Convention sharply critical of Reagan. The speech brought him to national attention, and he was widely considered a front-runner for the Democratic nomination for President in both 1988 and 1992, though he declined to seek the nomination in both instances. I’m assuming that their may have been some skeletons buried in Albany that he did not want dug up.

Header image: Detail from Jan Van Eyck’s Virgin and Child, 1486.